Florida Senate Education Leadership Named

So,,,,newly elevated from the Florida House, Manny Diaz will head the Senate Education Policy committee. Vice Chair is Senator Bill Montford D Tallahassee. Diaz was appointed in 2013 by Academica to head Doral College. This is the college that the Miami Herald skewered. It had no students and was created to provide online dual enrollment credit taught by Academica high school teachers. Remember that former Representative Erik Fresen, the brother-in-law of Academica’s CEO and a consultant to Academica, was convicted of tax evasion in 2018 for the eight year he served in the Florida House. We really do not need to have Academica lead educational policy for the state of Florida.

It will be interesting to see how Diaz and Senate Pro Tempore David Simmons will work together. Simmons lost his chairmanship of the education committee last year when he opposed HB 7069. Montford and Simmons are supportive of public school funding. Of course, the House leadership will continue to push school choice. How will any serious review of the impact of choice be conducted?

It is time for a statewide push in support of public schools. To see the other education committee members, click on STATE NEWS.

The Tide is Turning Against Education Reform

Hints about the education agendas of the Florida legislature are beginning to emerge. House Speaker Oliva (R. Miami-Dade) wants to create education savings accounts to expand schools choice. Senate leaders call for a review of school choice and improved funding for public schools. See the report by the Tallahassee Democrat here.

The trend to reevaluate school choice policy is not unique to the Florida Senate. The Fordham Institute, a pro-choice think tank, published a report called ‘The End of Educational Policy’. The authors state that the fight over education reform is a draw. The authors acknowledge that it has been a ‘Lost Decade’ for achievement gains as reflected by the flat NAEP scores for the past ten years. We can expect ‘incremental growth in school choice options, but no appetite for big, bold new initiatives’. There is, in other words, no looming take over of public schools.

What can be expected? Modest proposals for better management and oversight of charter schools for one thing. Other goals of the Fordham Institute include better teacher preparation, and improved career and technical education programs to help foster higher academic skills for high school graduates.

Nowhere in the Fordham article is any mention of improving incentives to help the teaching profession attract and retain more qualified college graduates. Nor is there any acknowledgement of the decline in funding for public education infrastructure. Instead, there is a continued reliance on testing and accountability ratings as the means to improve our schools. There is a call to focus on the achievement gains of all students, not just those children struggling to become proficient on state tests.

The Florida legislature will no doubt make some effort to curb the abuses of school choice management practices. If these measures are to be meaningful, they must address the for-profit management of charters, the lack of standards for private schools receiving tax credit scholarships, and the irresponsible creation of charters that screen and dismiss students rather than address their achievement needs. Perhaps the Senate will call for a moratorium on the expansion of choice in order to reevaluate education policy.

Newpoint Charter Owner Goes to Jail

Marcus May, founder of the Newpoint charter chain was sentenced to twenty years in jail and fined $5 million. During the trial, prosecuting attorney, Russell Edgars, provided evidence that Marcus May’s personal worth increased from $200,000 in 2010 to nearly $9 million in 2015, yet May owned no other business except the charter schools. According to the testimony during the trial, May set up shell companies to launder purchases from legitimate companies and then resold furniture, computers and other supplies to the charter schools at inflated prices. May was convicted of organized fraud and racketeering.

Newpoint operated fifteen charter schools across Florida. Newpoint has a history of problems revealed in 2015 in a story run by nbcmiami. Four of its schools received ‘F’ grades and others had closed.

The lack of state regulation on charter school management makes it impossible for school districts to adequately supervise charter school management practices.

Florida Twenty Years Later: Profits, Corruption, Closure

Here is Part 2 of the series I did for Diane Ravitch on where the lack of common rules governing charter and private schools leads. The simple answer is profiteering, corruption and charter school closures.

The first post “Florida Twenty Years Later: Undermining Public Schools” covers the false assumptions behind the choice movement i.e. choice saves money and spurs innovation. What really has happened the last twenty years to school facilities, teachers, and the learning process that demonstrate Florida schools are nearing a crisis? You can read it here.

Florida Twenty Years Later: Undermining Public Schools

Diane Ravitch asked me to do a series on my reflections about the impact of school choice in Florida. I did four articles that will appear daily in her blog.

The first post “Florida Twenty Years Later: Undermining Public Schools” appeared in her blog today. It covers the false assumptions behind the choice movement i.e. choice saves money and spurs innovation. What really has happened the last twenty years to school facilities, teachers, and the learning process that demonstrate Florida schools are nearing a crisis? You can read it here.

The second piece: “Twenty Years Later: Impact of Charter and Private Sector Schools” summarizes where the lack of common rules governing schools leads. The simple answer is profiteering, corruption and charter school closures.

The third piece: “Twenty years later: Who Benefits, Not Schools!” covers the impact of choice policies on civil rights, funding, local vs. state control, and accountability. One might ask: Who benefits in a system that generates so much conflict? Politicians and profiteers, but not the public may well be the answer.

The fourth piece “Twenty Years Later: The SociaI Impact of Privatizaton” covers resegregation and the result of the ‘separate but equal’ philosophy governing school choice. Separate is not equal.

Only 35% of Florida’s SAT test takers are ‘college ready’

Are Florida’s high school graduates ready for college, career and life? Evidently, only 35% of the 177,000 students tested met the SAT college readiness standard.

Pulling students out of the public schools and enrolling them in charters or private schools has not improved Florida’s educational system. If fact, it hurts more students than it helps. See for example, the CREDO Urban Study on charter schools where Florida’s charters performed less well than comparable public schools. Check out the high withdrawal statistics for students in tax credit scholarship private schools. Over sixty percent of students leave private schools within three years. Many return to public schools further behind than when they left.

School choice has lasted twenty years in Florida. It is not the answer to Florida’s low achievement rate. It plants the seeds of its own destruction by discouraging college graduates from entering the teaching profession and dividing Florida’s limited funding into three inefficient directions…public schools, charters, and private schools.

It is time the legislature focuses on creating learning environments that facilitate student achievement. We cannot test our way to the top. We cannot segregate students by race and income and expect students to believe that education is the key to their futures. We cannot blame teachers for social failings in our communities. We can redirect funding to support community schools. We can create learning environments where
students work together in schools much as they will have to do in the workforce i.e. in diverse teams solving common problems. We can put a moratorium on choice expansion just as the governor of New Jersey has. We can prohibit the expansion of for-profit charter management.

Want to hear Diane Ravitch and Me on Louisville Radio?

Prior to the Louisville, Kentucky Save Our Schools forum on Thursday, Diane and I were interviewed by the local radio. Diane is on the first seven minutes. I follow her. We cover privatization of schools and testing. We also covered social issues such as racial and economic segregation, charter vs. public school achievement, tax credit scholarships, teacher turnover Then, we cover for-profit charter profiteering. We close with the funding drain from public schools and describe the consequences for public school facilities and programs. We even mentioned the PACT campaign against for-profit charters. We closed with some signs of hope.

If you would like to listen, click here. The link is for October 11th and appears at the bottom of the screen.

The Time is Ripe for Charter Reform

What should the Florida legislative education agenda be for the upcoming session? How about charter school reform? New Jersey’s governor has just declared a moratorium on charter school expansion. They need to step back and review the management oversight and expansion policies.

California’s governor has just signed into law a ban on for-profit charters.

The U.S. Office of Inspector General has issued a new report stating that federal dollars disappear on charters that fail. They conducted an audit in Arizona, California, and Louisiana. It is no better in Florida.

Even Erika and Byron Donalds, co-founders and board members of Mason Classical Academy discovered first hand that they could not correct questionable management practices at their school. They pulled their children out. This is the only option charter parents have.

Their is at least one caveat about charter reform. There are those, like Donalds, who want to create a separate state school system for charters. Somehow this is supposed to improve oversight.

Dividing public dollars into two education systems opens a Pandora’s box. Which system gets how much money? What happens to the building when charter schools, that are privately owned, close. What happens now is that the charter management firms’ real estate companies can repurpose the buildings and reap the profits.

Yes, we need reform. We need, however, to vet the reformers. Be sure to question legislative candidates. Help them understand the consequences of charter mismanagement.

Classical Academy in Trouble Again

Collier County’s Classical Academy is facing financial mismanagement charges by its former treasurer. He claims that the principal has created an environment “where fraud can occur without detection”. This is just one more crisis at this charter school founded by Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds. Donalds was the sponsor for Amendment 8 to create a separate charter system.

The treasurer and Erika Donalds have pulled their children from the school. Donalds has filed paper work to open her own Classical Academy. Her husband, Representative Byron Donalds is reportedly ‘mulling’ legislation to increase charter school accountability. According to the Naples Daily News, Donalds is considering requirements that charters post student and teacher turnover rates as well as a minimum of five board members. Erika and Byron Donalds were former board members of this charter school.

Parents are finding out the hard way that they have no voice in charter school management. The charter boards are hand picked. Elected public school boards can do nothing until the charter can no longer pay its bills or students are in danger. Representative Donalds says that reform of the charter system depends upon the November election. Be sure you know where your representatives stand on charter school management reform.

Here are stories of other complaints about this charter school. It is quite a history. Yet, the school remains open.

Story 1. Inflated loans
Story 2. Underware searches
Story 3. Sexual Assault

Could it happen here, No Doubt About It? Consider Arizona

Arizona Superintendent of Schools Diane Douglas announced she will recommend the curriculum standards for Classical Academy charter schools. They are sponsored by Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian college in Michigan that has gone into the charter business. It had to do something a few years ago because it was scandal ridden due to the sexual exploits of its president resulting in his son’s wife’s suicide. It is also the charter chain that Erika Donalds, a Collier County Florida school board member, personally supports. She has filed a proposal to open another one in Martin County. It’s the same chain that won its appeal to Florida’s State Board of Education to open a Classical Academy in Tallahassee this past week.

Florida’s State Board of Education Chair is no supporter of public schools. Marva Johnson advocated that Florida’s constitution be changed to allow public funds to support private, religious schools. Johnson was voted by SBE members to succeed Gary Chartrand. He is one of the financial supporters of KIPP charters in Jacksonville. He is also one of the major contributors to school board races. His candidates support charter schools.

There is a lot of money to be made from Florida’s charter schools. Almost half of the 650 charters are run by for-profit management companies that are subcontractors with the charter boards they help to create. Want to know about the inside dealings of Academica, Florida’s richest charter firm? Read the Miami Herald report. This story ran before Erik Fresen, Zulueta’s brother-in-law and former Florida legislator was arrested for forgetting for eight years to file his income tax returns. He already had been cited for conflict of interest in his role at Academica.

Large non-profit charter management chains have their own way of making money. Eva Moskowitz, head of the NY based Success Academies, made over $782,000 in 2016 to run 46 schools. The Superintendent of Orange County, Florida public schools runs 191 schools, but her salary is less than half of what Moskowitz earns.

Until Florida citizens demand change, too many charters will syphon off public tax dollars for private gain. When the money goes to charters, it comes from your children’s schools.